Bananas are yellow in Osaka, or an unusual interview with Naoko Amano

This post feels very warm to the author of this blog, because (1) it does not revolve around the author of this blog; (2) it puts an exceptionally kind, friendly, open-hearted, sincere and devoted teacher and friend centerstage.

Wait no more and read what Naoko Amano had to say in the conversation we had in the living room of her apartment in Kishiwada, Osaka, Japan, late in the evening on Saturday, December 6th.

 

*****

Hello, Naoko! The first time I saw you was at JALT 2013 and you were one of the few Japanese English teachers that I met there (or maybe the only one?). Why did you decide to come to JALT? It was great and refreshing to see you among so many English native speakers.

Hi Anna! It started from a small mistake. I was looking through my friend’s Facebook posts. One of them was about a teaching workshop. I was interested in it but I already had plans for that day and also it was far from my house. So I looked at another post. Soon I got a message from Marco Brazil: “Thank you for joining my workshop”. OMG I did click “GO” by mistake! Then he suggested I should come to JALT 2013 to see his presentation.

I thought only a professional can join so I didn’t think about going there. I thought not yet … But another day, Barbara (Barbara Hoskins Sakamoto) also suggested for me to go to JALT. Then I thought that I should go. I was really scared but it was great to meet lots of wonderful teachers, and I could learn a lot.

 

I see. As you said to me in our conversation a couple of days ago, small things lead to big things. I believe it to be true! But why did you think that you couldn’t go to JALT at first?

I didn’t have any great experience like studying abroad or graduating from a famous college. I can’t speak English like a native speaker. I didn’t have much teaching experience. So I thought “not yet”.

 

Well you were teaching English in 2013, right? What kind of teaching experience did you have by that time?

I’d been teaching children for 5 years then. But the first year I had only three students. In these three years I had more than 30 students. So I felt like I’d been teaching for only two or three years.

 

I see. You mentioned in your answer before the word “professional”. Do you connect this word with teaching qualifications? I know you had some back in 2013.

No, I don’t connect those. I think qualifications are like a ticket to the teaching world. I want to connect experience with professionalism.

 

I agree with you on this. And even then, in my view, you had this ticket to the teaching world: you’d taken a course for teaching English to young learners. You had every right to be at JALT (if one needs to have that). Anyway, I think your story of how you started teaching is fascinating and inspiring. Can you tell it, please?

I met lots of people because I studied English and could speak it. I wanted to keep using English after that. So I changed my job to use English, I went to an English school, I watched movies, I wrote letters and called my friend in the USA. I tried to use the language. One day, my friend in Miami gave me presents for my daughters. They were workbooks for English used in the US (my friend is an elementary school teacher). The workbooks were colourful, cute, not like Japanese ones. I felt excited and I really wanted to show them to children in Japan and to use those books to teach. So I told my friends that I wanted to teach English and some of their kids started to study English with me.

 

Oh really? I didn’t know about that. That must have been fun and also pleasant to feel your friends’ support in this way. I also know that when you got your teaching certificate, you didn’t go to work at a public school or a language school, like the majority of people would do. Instead, you went your own way.

I thought about a franchise but they have their own educational system and I would have had to follow it: textbooks, schedules, everything. I don’t like that. I didn’t feel excited about that. I can’t imagine that I’m teaching English with their curriculum. I think that I can teach in a more fun way.

I made a list of things that I wanted to do with kids in English and looked for music, books, teaching ideas… Then I talked about it with my friends and some of their kids started to study English with me. There were 3 at first. Then I did an English summer program. I made 4 posters to advertise and 15 kids joined the summer program, 6 of them later stayed in my school. “It was fun!” – their feedback made me really happy.

 

That’s really interesting and unusual. So, small things have led to big things – and now you have your own school?!

Yes!! But there was a time when I thought I’d close down the school because I didn’t have many teacher friends. I didn’t know what other schools were doing. It was then that I decided to go to a workshop. It was an Oxford workshop and there was the name “Barbara Hoskins Sakamoto”, who is the author of the book I was going to use. I was surprised to see many teachers there and the workshop was interesting and meaningful for me. On my way home my friend and I came up to Barbara to thank her for the workshop, and she said: “Why don’t you have a cup of coffee with me?” Who would say no?! I was shy and could not speak a lot (my friend did though). Barbara suggested to start using Facebook for professional purposes and she introduced some teachers to connect with me.

And one more thing that I decided to change to keep teaching was my school name. Initially, my school name was “Nao’s English Studio”. We were talking about how important it is to know that English is not just a subject but also a communication tool, and communication is important. It is ok if it’s not correct. “Hello! How are you?”  – “Yellow Banana.” This conversation is ok if it makes you smile. That’s communication. I was inspired from this conversation and then decided to change my school name into “Yellow Banana Kids English”. I felt excited about it and didn’t want to quit teaching anymore. Students love this name and people know it!

 

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Yellow Banana certainly feels positive and makes you want to smile =) I’ve been lucky to see your lessons. I saw how dedicated you are, your passion and concern about making your lessons enjoyable for kids. It seemed to me your students feel very comfortable and “at home” in your class. Their parents smile as they bring their kids to your class, which I think is a good sign. They know you care for their children.

Thank you very much Anna! I’m really happy to teach English. “Teaching” for me is not just teaching… It is teaching a person, having a relationship with students and their parents, relationship with other teachers. How wonderful it is!

 

I thank you! This is, by the way, the most extraordinary post I’ve done in the #livebloggingparty series (note: we were, as I’ve said above, sitting in the same room and having this dialogue in real time on a real piece of paper, in actual writing). One last question in this interview is strange but I want to ask it anyway. How did it feel to you to be having this conversation in writing? It was the first time for me personally. This is the kind of an interview that I’m really interested in for my blog.

It was very interesting and also it was a very good writing exercise for me. I could read your question many times and I had time to think what to write. It was fun!! Thank you very much, Anna!

 

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*****

It is certainly me who has to be thankful. Naoko enthusiastically picked up my *nerdy* idea to spend an evening conversing with each other in pen and on paper, and I doubt it is something many teachers would agree to doing as their Saturday night pastime. For me, this experience was eye-opening in how much I really value the presence of a person I’m talking to. These 90 minutes and 9 pages had (and indeed have) a genuine feel of care, interest, and bonding. Thank you for this, Naoko.  I wish your school to prosper and your energy to be ever-present!

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14 thoughts on “Bananas are yellow in Osaka, or an unusual interview with Naoko Amano

  1. Hana Tichá says:

    What a great idea for a post, Anna. I sometimes do this type of activity with my students and I think it has a lot of benefits. It is less stressful than the spoken and as you say, it gives the participants more time to think about the questions as well as the answers. I really loved how Naoko described her teaching journey and I really admire her courage and determination. She made her dreams come true because she had clearly stated her goals and went for them, no matter the obstacles. Hats off! 🙂

    • Naoko Amano says:

      Hello, Hana. Naoko from Osaka Japan. I am very happy to read your comment. I don’t do anything special but my students, teacher friends taught me how to enjoy learning & teaching. I want to be excited about anything at any moment. I believe that I can make people happy.

    • annloseva says:

      Thank you, Hana! You are so right, Naoko is an example to follow. I’m very happy we took the time to do this interview and now I have it on my blog. In difficult times when I lack belief in my own self, I’ll come here.

  2. swisssirja says:

    Wow, Anna and Hana, I guess you just gave me a tiny idea to work on … corresponding with my students 😉
    Anna, I hope, I really, truly hope your homecoming will be as smooth as possible. I guess there will be bumps on the road, but take your time. It won’t be an easy coming back but if you do experience hard times, let them wash over you like waves … let them have their moments … it was all worth it, after all.

    Take care, dear Anna!

    • annloseva says:

      Oh Sirja, if only I’d realized back then on Dec 11th, when you posted this comment, how big the bumps would be! Hard times indeed. Sometimes it’s been like sinking, in those waves.
      Now that I’m reading the comments and my blog again, I might start to grasp the real value of that blogging in Asia for me. Thank you so much for being part of it and supporting me on the way.

  3. barbsaka says:

    One of the luckiest cups of coffee I’ve ever had 🙂

  4. Naoko Amano says:

    I was not sure I could do it or not when you talk about this, but, as soon as I started to write, i felt like ” I can do it!” . I was very excited about the interview. 9 pages paper made me shout ” I did it!” actually I shouted in my heart. 🙂 Thank you for giving me such a great opportunity.

    • annloseva says:

      Dear Naoko,

      I was sure from the very moment of our conversation in Starbucks on the first day I came that you can (and should!) do it. =) It’s the least I could do for you, seriously.

      I hope I’ll see you and your family again in 2015, and will visit your classes…. maybe in a new school format?) who knows 😉
      I wish you the best of luck, sincerely!

  5. Rose Bard says:

    Thank you. Thank you. Thank you Anna for this wonderful idea. Even if I had never the chance to meet Naoko in person (but in video chat), I’ve always felt close to her. This post is a great chance to know her even better.

    Naoko you are such an inspiring person. So much great energy and passion for what you do. We can feel it in your words. Keep having fun and enjoying your journey.

    • I’m with Rose! Naoko, you have given me the little bit of courage I needed today yo follow my dreams. You’re an inspiration! Anna, great interview!

      • annloseva says:

        Thanks, Josette – as I’ve said in one comment above, this is one of the posts I’ll be coming back to myself for courage and determination when I’m weak.
        This is like my fav post on this blog now.

    • annloseva says:

      Oh thank you, Rose. It’s not at all surprising to me that this post in particular gathered the warmest of responses! It’s Naoko’s energy and passion exactly.

      Thank you for reading and commenting! Seeing words from you appear on the pages of this space is always a special moment for me. =)

  6. Naoko Amano says:

    Rose, Josette. Thank you very much for the comments. It was the first time to know I inspired somebody. It is a little bit embarrassing. 🙂 But I am so happy to read your comments. I think I could make efforts toward to my dream by inspiring by other teachers and great support by my family. This experience gave me a big encouragement. I want to keep making effort to make people around me happy thought teaching English.

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